“Sit down, please.”
The young boy sat, uncomfortable and gangly in the high-backed wooden chair.
“Are you comfortable?” the red-haired man continued, his eyes and quill busy on a pair of scrolls on his desk. The young boy sat opposite in one of the two fine chairs kept for receiving guests.
“Yes, my lord.”
“Good – good.” Key said, finishing a line on the left-hand scrolled and looked up. He furrowed his brows and tried to collect his ink-tossed thoughts. ” I’m sorry, what was your name again?”
“Lucas, sir. Lucas Grahd.”
“Of Pice? Your family has an estate there?” the red-haired scribe took note of the gryphon emblem on the young boy’s collar – faded, but fine material.
“Yes, my lord.”
“And you’ve come here about your mother?” Key said. “Lionshead Fever –very sad. You have my condolences, of course.” His quill went scratch, adding another line to his letter to the Regent. The paving recently completed outside his office was simply atrocious, and he was determined to have it re-cobbled before the end of the summer.
“Very kind, my lord. That was the subject of my visit today. I believe I may have found a cure.”
…It would honor me greatly if you could send a magistrate to inspect the quality of the work yourself, My Lady. It is simply beyond accepting — I’ve seen untutored yeoman do better with rough bricks and river-mortar…
Key’s quill kept scratching, until the silence in the room finally reached him. He looked up at the young boy sitting in his chair, and blinked.
The boy stared at him, but repeated himself.
Key tapped his forefinger on the desk, fresh ink stained – leaving a whorl of his fingerprints on the margin of his letter. The scribe cursed, and quickly reached for a cloth to daub it away.
“Sir, did you hear me? I’ve found a cure for Lionshead fever. My mother has been bedridden for weeks, and the other doctors gave up days ago. I threw myself into our family library and read every medical text and herbal tome that we own. I’m convinced I’ve found a forgotten remedy, passed down from the Sarmadi. Some of the ingredients are exotic, but the process for creating it is exceedingly simple. I consulted many of our family’s friends and business associates, and you have the final ingredient that I need.” The boy leaned forward, the words flung out with desperation.
Key tucked the quill behind his ear, ignoring the ink that dribbled down his cheek. He pinched his nose, and inclined his head to the ceiling for a moment.
“Young man..Lucas? I am sorry. I did not realize that your mother still…lingered. It makes what I’m about to say very difficult indeed.”
The boy slammed his hand on the edge of the desk. “I know the gallowgrass is very expensive, and I know that you have it. Please spare me the sales pitch. I have brought more than sufficient funds to cover any reasonable price. My family has fallen on hard times, but not so hard that we cannot afford—”
The boy looked up in surprise. The red-haired scribe has walked from around the desk to sit in the chair next to him. His hand was clenched on the edge of the desk, knuckles white.
“I am sorry that you did not have my full attention at the first. Forgive me. Your age made me think you were here on a simple errand, or perhaps a scholarly project for your tutor. I can see that you are a young man of uncommon intelligence, so I will speak plain.”
The boy said nothing, but nodded quickly with a polite acceptance.
“You say your mother has been suffering for weeks. Did none of the doctors who administered to your mother explain the path that Lionshead takes through the body?” Key said.
“Ah. Lionshead Fever is a fairly rare malady, that attacks the upper respiratory system – the lungs and nasal passages. It is not particularly contagious, generally only being contracted through direct exposure to infected tissue. I assume your mother spent some time travelling right before her symptoms appeared?”
“Yes.” Lucas said.
“As I thought. Most people afflicted die in the first two to three days. Their lungs fill with blood and they quite simply drown in their own water. The followers of the deity Nasirah believe it is divine justice, only the wicked, the betrayer, the infidel are cursed with this disease. They would stamp their fierce god’s symbol into the foreheads of the sick – a mark of their fate, and also an effective way to prevent further spread of the contagion. A lion, stamped on the head, do you see?”
“I’ve read all this at great length, my lord. I don’t see how –”
“Those that do not die immediately…” Key continued, his voice level, as if the boy had not interrupted.”….can linger for many days, even for weeks on end. But the damage to the lungs is permanent.”
The word hung in the air.
Key laid an ink-stained hand on the young boy’s shoulder. “You have shown great skill and intelligence in your research, you have shown great ingenuity and determination in tracking me down. I am the only person for hundreds of miles that has the gallowgrass, and I would gladly give it to you to save your mother. She could ask for no greater gift or more pure expression of your love for her. But, the Nameless be kind, it has fallen to me to tell you these truths. You are too late. Any cure would need to be given in the first few days of the infection to preserve any undamaged tissue. It has been weeks. Your mother is dead, in minutes or hours.”
The young boy stood up, and shook Key’s hand with empty poise. “I thank you for your time, my lord.”
“I wish I had more to give to you …and to your mother.” the scribe said sadly.
The boy left, and Key sat for a while in the second high-backed guest chair. He knew he would not finish his cobblestone letter this night, nor would he for many nights to come.
“More time.” he said to the empty room.
[Story on Demand for N.E. White – follow the link for their blog and the clicking thereof.]